Rumor Has It

Seriously, how does Elon Musk get any sleep? News outlets are circulating rumors that SpaceX is investigating sabotage as the cause of the Sept. 1 Falcon 9 explosion at Cape Canaveral. Well, before anyone gets carried away, let's add a healthy dose of skepticism to the conversation.

The Washington Post seems to be ready to pin the issue on a supposed long-running feud between SpaceX and its competitor, United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA and SpaceX are competing over national security contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and some think that ULA may have resorted to nefarious means to bring down SpaceX.

Suspicion is centered around reports from industry officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity. They said that a SpaceX employee recently requested access to the roof of one of ULA's buildings at the Cape. Supposedly, the video of the explosion shows an "odd shadow" and a white spot on the roof of a nearby building leased by ULA, the suggestion being put forth here is that SpaceX was investigating the spot due to ideas regarding sabotage.

However, an insider stated that SpaceX is treating the reports of sabotage as "pretty much a joke" and that no one is giving the idea any credence. And indeed, there is nothing from SpaceX to indicate otherwise.

A 'Difficult and Complex' Failure

So if it wasn't ULA, what did happen? Musk has referred to the explosion as "the most difficult and complex" failure the company has ever had. And the team still doesn't know what caused it; however, Musk has certainly not used the word "sabotage." And neither has anyone else at SpaceX.

Well, okay, Musk did use the word. But as a joke...

SpaceX is leading the investigation along with help from the Air Force, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

SpaceX previously reported that the explosion may have been caused by a breach in the "cryogenic helium system" of the vehicle's upper oxygen tank. The cause of the breach, though, "remains unknown." The explosion occurred during a routine tank filling – which means the engines were off. So SpaceX needs to identify a heat source.

At a conference in Mexico this week, Musk said that finding out what went wrong is the company’s "absolute top priority:" "We’ve eliminated all of the obvious possibilities for what occurred there," he said. "So what remains are the less probable answers."

Despite the setbacks and mystery, SpaceX intends to return to flight as soon as November.

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